VOA: Tohono O'odham turns to traditional foods

"The second largest Native American tribe, Tohono O'odham, has the highest rate of adult onset diabetes in the world. Many of the tribe's 28,000 members live on a reservation in the desert in the U.S. southwest state of Arizona. Until 1960, no one had diabetes because people ate traditional foods that helped prevent the disease. But with the introduction of foods high in fat and calories, diabetes became widespread, including in children. Now the O'odham people are being encouraged to go back to eating the traditional foods and a cafe on the reservation is making those foods appealing.

This is lunch hour at the Desert Rain Cafe on the Tohono O'odham reservation in Arizona. Each dish contains at least one traditional food from plants that grow on the reservation. This popular chicken sandwich has a sauce made from Prickly Pear cactus. Customers are raving about the tasty and healthy food.

The cafe also serves calcium rich cholla buds from the Cholla cactus, and fruit smoothies with nutritious chia seeds. Cafe manager Sam Saunders says another popular meal is meat with high protein tepary beans. He also says he put seeds from a giant cactus in the region in some dishes.

"These are the saguaro seeds that are grown on the Saguaro cactus. It's harvested only one time a year," he explained.

Tristan Reader, Co-Director of the Tohono O'odham Community Action group, started the cafe to encourage people to eat traditional foods.

"A mom might be able, if she doesn't have time to cook, she can come in, get those good, healthy foods, and take them home for dinner," Reader explained."

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Native American Tribe Has Highest Rate of Adult Onset Diabetes Worldwide (Voice of America News 11/25)